Since 2003, Mercy Corps has been working to pave the way for a more resilient and peaceful Iraq. Last year, we reached over 3 million people across the country.
Iraq has a long history of military conflict, ethno-religious divisions, and political instability. Yet between each crisis lies a crucial point of transition in which Iraq has the opportunity to break this cycle and move towards a stable and prosperous future.
Since January of 2014, Iraq has experienced massive displacement and humanitarian need due to the growth of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), its capture of territories, and the extensive military campaign intended to defeat it. In a country of 38 million, ISIS’ control, which reached its height in the fall of 2014, displaced 6 million people and left more than 11 million people in need of humanitarian assistance. The recent conflict, paired with a prolonged period of high unemployment, insufficient government services, and a deep polarization of society, has led to an estimated 4.1 million people in Iraq who are still in need of humanitarian assistance. Of six million people who were forced to flee their homes, 4.8 million have returned, while 1.2 million people remain displaced.
Meanwhile, thousands of Syrian refugees escaping from conflict have crossed the border in an attempt to seek shelter in Iraq. Nearly 250,000 Syrian refugees are currently living in Iraq, creating even greater humanitarian needs.
The COVID‑19 pandemic adds another layer of devastation on top of many existing challenges. More people have lost their source of livelihoods, and the restrictions on movement have increased safety and gender-based violence concerns. Additionally, in late 2020, over 15 formal camps for internally displaced people were closed. Humanitarian organisations have had to pivot and reassess needs for the people who are now trying to navigate life outside of the camps.
An estimated 1.3 million children face challenges accessing education because of disruptions caused by conflict or the need to help support their family. COVID‑19 and its secondary impacts have only exacerbated these challenges. Many children end up working on the streets while many young girls are vulnerable to abuse or forced into early marriages.
Despite all the challenges, Iraqi people have demonstrated an ability to rise again and again from crisis. Over the years, Mercy Corps has continuously pivoted—both geographically and thematically—to respond to the needs of communities across the country.
We help people in Iraq access the resources and knowledge needed to cope more effectively with crises, recover quicker, and be more resilient in the face of future challenges. We not only address immediate needs but also work closely with communities to tackle longer-term peace and development challenges. Throughout, we use evidence to continually learn, adapt, and innovate as the context changes. We are focused on the following four areas:
- Meeting immediate humanitarian needs
- Supporting more self-reliant and resilient families
- Building more peaceful and strong communities
- Strengthening institutions and civil society
In response to COVID‑19, we’ve adapted our programmes so we can continue to safely work alongside the communities we serve.
Meeting immediate humanitarian needs
From cash transfers to water and sanitation, Mercy Corps provides lifesaving support in the face of disaster, conflict, or pandemic. We provide cash to families, so they can choose what their families need the most. In 2015, we helped form the Cash Consortium for Iraq (CCI) which includes the five largest organisations working in the country. Together, we have reached over 90,000 families with cash assistance totalling $160 million dollars. We often pair cash with short- and medium-term work opportunities, referrals so people can access other critical services, or legal assistance to help people obtain documentation like identification cards.
We also work to improve public health outcomes in and out of camps through hygiene promotion, hygiene kit distribution, and rehabilitation of water and sanitation infrastructure that was damaged in the war.
Supporting more self-reliant and resilient families
Psychosocial support, quality education, and access to dignified income opportunities are essential components of living a more self-reliant and resilient life.
We support students to access and thrive in school while also working with the broader education system to create a learning environment that is safe, inclusive, and meets children’s needs.
We help individuals—especially women and people in rural, marginalised, and underserved areas—gain safe, secure, and dignified work opportunities. We also tailor support for farmers to increase the quantity and quality of crops. At the same time, we make sure they are mentally and technically prepared to enter into employment and connect them to opportunities. Our programmes strengthen demand-driven skills while also supporting growth in key sectors like agriculture, water resource management, and the digital economy.
Building more peaceful and strong communities
Mercy Corps is working to build bridges across divisions and address drivers of conflict within communities. One way we do this is by creating community and youth action groups—including men, women, and youth from different ethnic and religious backgrounds—to implement community projects and advocate for solutions to shared challenges.
We also foster engagement between government institutions and religious, tribal, and community leaders to de-escalate tensions and resolve conflicts while strengthening their negotiation and conflict resolution skills. As promoting and supporting stability is a crucial factor for a peaceful and prosperous Iraq, Mercy Corps prioritises integrating this work across our programmes.
Strengthening institutions and civil society
As Iraq continues to engage in rebuilding efforts, it is crucial people feel more optimistic, that their voices are being heard, and that they have an active role to play in society and government decision-making.
To that end, we partner with civil society organisations to help strengthen their ability to respond to their communities’ needs and develop strong relationships with the government so they can effectively represent their communities. We also build relationships with government officials, at all levels, to help strengthen their ability to provide essential services and ultimately be accountable to their constituents.